Unwed father’s rights: Establishing paternity in Tennessee

Through voluntary acknowledgment or by court order, establishing paternity is an important step for unwed fathers in Tennessee and their children.

When unwed men in Tennessee father children, there is no presumption as to their kids' parentage like there is for children born to married parents. While it may seem a small matter, establishing paternity for children born out of wedlock is an important step for the children themselves, as well as for their fathers. Therefore, it behooves unwed fathers to understand how they may go about establishing legal relationships with their children in the state of Tennessee.

The importance of establishing paternity

The action of establishing paternity allows kids to know and have a relationship with both their parents and to develop a sense of identity and belonging. It also allows them eligibility for medical, money and financial benefits from both parents. Establishing paternity for their children may give men a sense of accomplishment and responsibility, and it enables them to pursue their parental rights.

Voluntary acknowledgment of paternity

When both parents agree about a child's parentage, they may choose to voluntarily establish paternity. This is achieved through the state's voluntary acknowledgment of paternity program, which requires parents to complete a form and sign it with a notary public as witness. Unmarried parents may complete a voluntary acknowledgment form at the hospital at the time of their child's birth, or later at the local health department or child support office. Once filed with the state, fathers may have their names added to their children's birth certificates, and they are entitled and subject to their rights and responsibilities as parents.

Court order of parentage

If the mother denies paternity or either the mother or the father is uncertain of a child's parentage, she or he may refuse to sign the voluntary acknowledgment. Unwed fathers in such cases may choose to take legal action to pursue their parental rights. This may be initiated by filing a petition to establish parentage with the court or by opening a case with the local child support office.

In addition to hearing testimony or statements from both parents, the court may order DNA testing in order to determine the probability that a man is a child's biological father. If based on the genetic analysis, as well as other evidence, the court decides it is probable that a man is a child's father, it may issue an order establishing parentage and requiring that his name be added to the child's birth certificate.

The effects of establishing paternity

Whether voluntarily or by court order, establishing paternity grants unmarried fathers access to their parental rights. It is important to keep in mind, however, that this step does not allow them to immediately act upon these rights. Tennessee law stipulates that mothers are the legal custodial guardians of their children, unless there is a court order specifying otherwise. Therefore, fathers must take legal action in order to request formal custody or visitation rights for their children. Likewise, the custodial parents must file a petition seeking a support order should they desire one for the benefit of their children.

Seeking legal assistance

For men in Tennessee and elsewhere, being a father may be one of the great joys of their lives. However, taking responsibility for their children and being involved in their lives is not always a straightforward process. Therefore, unwed fathers may benefit from consulting with an attorney to learn more about their rights and options.